EXCLUSIVE: Eastern Cape schools fail to meet safety standards, says leaked report

Eastern Cape schools have failed to meet required health and safety standards since reopening a month ago.
Eastern Cape schools have failed to meet required health and safety standards since reopening a month ago.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A damning new report shows that Eastern Cape schools have failed to meet required health and safety standards since reopening a month ago, and will not be able to “accommodate incoming grades” unless the situation is turned around.

Not only is pupils' risk of contracting Covid-19 heightened through the shared use of textbooks, but the personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered to schools is not up to scratch.

These are just two of the findings contained in a provincial education committee report to be presented to the legislature this week.

The document, which was discussed on Tuesday night and has been seen by the DispatchLIVE, contains insights from MPLs who conducted oversight visits to schools in June.

The committee's findings cast further doubt on the decision to reopen schools to grade 7 and 12 pupils on June 1, and comes as education superintendent-general Themba Kojana seeks to convince the national department that all children except those in matric should stay away from school until August 3.

The portfolio committee, chaired by ANC MPL Mpumelelo Saziwa, slammed the provincial education department for not having a clear plan on assisting pupils and teachers with comorbidities and those who had tested positive for Covid-19.

The  committee  said most of the PPE procured by the department placed students at risk as it was  inadequate and of “poor quality”.

The MPLs visited over 50 schools.  

Some of key findings are that:

  • As things stand, the majority of the schools that are set to reopen won't be able to accommodate incoming grades;
  • Pupils are sharing textbooks at some schools;
  • The majority of schools do not have enough classrooms and furniture to accommodate other grades when they reopen;

  • Some teachers and pupils are in desperate need of psychosocial support because they are anxious about working and learning in Covid-19 hotspots;
  • The department has “no clear substitution plan” for teachers with comorbidities to prevent disruption of teaching. There is also no clear provision to assist pupils with comorbidities and those learners who have tested positive; and
  • One school had to collect PPE from a service provider's warehouse.

UDM MPL Mncedisi Filtane said it was  evident that the Eastern Cape  education department was at “sixes and sevens” when it came to implementing its programme of reopening schools.

“Our long-held view that they are just not ready was confirmed by the oversight report of MPLs who had actually physically visited the schools,” Filtane said.

“From the report it is clear that there are going to be significant personal shortages in technical, teaching and other areas, resulting in ineffective teaching and learning. The whole programme is so severely disrupted that the quality and quantity of learning will be seriously compromised.”

He said all classes should be suspended until  “mid-August at the earliest then extended beyond December 2020”.

DA MPL Yusuf Cassim said the report highlighted the “chaos” the department found itself in and the “poor leadership and management of the department”.

It was an indictment on education MEC Fundile Gade, he added.

Speaking to the Dispatch on Wednesday, Loyiso Mbinda, the Eastern Cape CEO of teacher union Naptosa,  confirmed unlabelled sanitisers was one problem experienced by teachers.

Mbinda said most PPE delivered to schools was substandard and it was apparent no one had been assigned to undertake quality assurances on the equipment.

“In terms of health standards, sanitisers must be between 60% and 70% alcohol, but at some schools the  sanitisers did not have labels so we cannot be certain of the percentage of alcohol,” he said.

In its report, the portfolio committee listed several recommendations.

They included that the department prioritise  schools that reopened later so they could be compliant with non-negotiable requirements like water, sanitation and PPE.

The portfolio committee also asked the department to organise that social workers  regularly visit schools.

With regard to those with underlying illnesses or who had tested positive for Covid-19,  the  committee said a proper plan for teachers and pupils should be drawn up so that there were no delays in teaching.

The committee added: “The department should provide more textbooks to avoid the Covid-19 spread in schools. The schools should strengthen their retention policy of textbooks to avoid unnecessary expenditure.”

Education department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani had not responded to DispatchLIVE's queries at the time of writing.

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